George Stevens directed two of my favorite films, GUNGA DIN and SHANE. He also directed THE TALK OF THE TOWN, from 1942, and while it doesn’t approach the level of those two classics, it’s still a very well-made and enjoyable movie.
Cary Grant is cast a little against type as a political activist who’s accused of burning down a mill he’d been protesting because of allegedly unsafe working conditions. Before he can be tried and convicted, he escapes from jail and injures his ankle in the process. He winds up hiding out in a house belonging to a young woman, played by Jean Arthur, he had a crush on when they were both in school. She’s just about to rent the house out to a new tenant, a visiting law professor (Ronald Colman). When Grant is discovered, Arthur covers for him and claims he’s the gardener. She winds up working for Colman as his secretary while he tries to write a book on the law, and not surprisingly, we get a long stretch of the movie where a romantic triangle develops between the three of them, as well as some witty dialogue and a number of philosophical discussions about the nature of the legal system. Eventually things get a lot more complicated and the true story of the mill fire is uncovered. It’s pretty easy to figure out, but this movie was never intended to be a mystery.
Instead it’s a romantic comedy/drama, and it works just fine at that. Irwin Shaw, one of my favorite novelists and short story writers, co-wrote the screenplay, based on a play that was adapted for the screen by Dale Van Every, who I knew only as a well-regarded historical novelist. Because of that, THE TALK OF THE TOWN is a well-constructed tale with good dialogue, and Stevens keeps things moving along briskly. Grant is charming as always, even when he’s trying to be earnest and political, Colman is good (nothing is said about the fact that two Englishmen are playing distinctly American characters), and Arthur looks great in a pair of men’s pajamas and displays her usual deft touch with both comedy and drama. The supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Edgar Buchanan, Leonid Kinsky, and a very young and uncredited Lloyd Bridges as a newspaper reporter. I looked for Charles Lane, since he’s nearly always in movies like this, but didn’t see him.
THE TALK OF THE TOWN is a little too predictable to be a great film, but it is a good, solid, intelligent movie that’s well worth watching. I’d never seen it until now, and I’m glad we did.